The Two Questions That Matter Most


Several years ago I was in Canada, leading a mix of adult and teenage ministry leaders from a very buttoned-down denomination through a half-day training experience I call “Jesus-Centered Ministry.” In the experience, small teams wrestle with a series of Scripture passages that are intended to introduce them to the “unedited” Jesus—a Jesus that surprises and upends.

At the end of this process I ask groups to finish this statement: “Jesus is…” They can finish it any way they want, based on their exploration of Jesus through Scripture. As group after group called out their “Jesus is” statements, I wrote them on a huge flipchart at the front of the room. This experience has been life-changing experience for many. On this day, I was about halfway through my survey of the room when I got to a table full of teenage girls. I pointed to the table and one of them, the designated speaker, stood up and proclaimed, in a very loud voice: “Jesus is a badass!”

Then she sat down.

What followed was a very pregnant pause—a moment of terror as I waited for this roomful of straightlaced ministry people to react to the girl’s raw proclamation. And then, like a concussion bomb, the room erupted in delighted glee. The clapping and laughter merged and rolled through the room like a tsunami. The girls at the table looked a little confused and taken off guard—they had no idea what was “allowed” or “not allowed” as they described the Jesus they encountered in Scripture. And the boisterous response made us, for the first time that day, a kindred community.

Maybe like me, that group now knew that “badass” was as close to a dead-on portrait of the heart of Jesus as we were likely to hear in our lifetime. When the ruckus finally died down, I told the girls that I’d never given a prize for an answer in any of my training experiences—ever—but she had just forced me into an exception.

I think any fair reading of the Gospels, with preconceived assumptions muted, would result in a similar “Jesus is…” statement for anyone who has the courage (or the adolescent chutzpah) to say it. He’s a redemptive badass, and our freedom from captivity is possible because of it. If Satan, the enemy of God, is committed to persevere in his “killing, stealing, and destroying,” then our Redeemer, the Shepherd who intends to lay down his life for his sheep, had better be up for the fight.

The First Question That Matters Most
After the latest in a long line of tough encounters with the conniving Pharisees, followed by another frustrating conversation with his well-meaning but often-clueless disciples, Jesus does something shockingly humble. He asks his best friends a courageous question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

And his nervous disciples shuffle their sandals, cast sideways glances at each other, then offer this: “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” And here is Jesus at his most vulnerable: “But who do you say that I am?” The disciples are staring at their toes and waiting for someone to break the tension. And, of course, a determined Simon throws this high-stakes answer on the table: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

“Who do you say I am?” is a question for the ages—for you and me, not just for a dozen men on a dusty journey through the Golan Heights. It’s not an answer-once question—it’s an answer-now and now-again question. The way we describe and understand Jesus will define our present, reframe our past, and guide our future. When we answer, over and over, “Who do you say I am?” we move Jesus from the periphery of our life to the center of it. He’s no longer playing the role of divine butler in our life (the description Dr. Christian Smith gives to the prevalent way Americans see Jesus). Instead, He’s the definition of beauty and the gravitational center of our everyday life. “Who do I say Jesus is?” is the first question that matters most for those who would be his disciples.

The Second Question That Matters Most
When Simon steps up to answer Jesus’ question (“Who do you say that I am?”) with determined courage, he reveals his deepening attachment to Jesus, the “Vine” to his “branch.” But close relationships are always mutually generous—as we consider the truth about who Jesus really is and “name” him, Jesus considers the truth about who we are and “names” us. Yes, his close friend, the fisherman Simon, is the first to publicly proclaim him as Messiah and the Son of God. But then Jesus fires back with this:

“You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19).

As we have the courage to name Jesus, he is just as determined to name us, as He does with Simon by revealing his true name. “Petros” had never before been used as a name—it literally means “rock,” so it would be like naming your newborn “Spandex” or “Lathe.” Jesus is the first to give anyone, anywhere the name “Peter.” When we narrow our focus on Jesus, pay better attention to Him, and even feed on all the surprising things He says and does, we also invite Him to identify who we really are and what we’re made to do in life. It’s what William Paul Young is after when he asks: “How are you going to know the truth of your being unless somebody tells you what the truth of your being is?”

The second question that matters most in life is: “Who does Jesus say that I am?”

Jesus is our only trustworthy mirror. We’re all wired to discover who we are by looking at mirrors outside ourselves, but the only safe mirror is Jesus. The rest are just as flawed and shattered as our own. In Jesus we have a mirror we can trust—He will reflect our true identity back to us directly. And Jesus will also identify our true self indirectly through the Body of Christ, when its corporate reflection dovetails with what he’s already revealing about us. I mean, Jesus has chosen to move through his Body, and that means he can artfully piece together the shattered mirrors of his people to give us a reflection of our soul that matches his own direct reflection. What Jesus says about us, and how he sees us, is our only sure foundation—all other reflections will either build on that foundation or tear it down.

Paul says: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).

When we look into the mirror of Jesus, we are transformed by what we see in ourselves.

If you would like help as you explore planting a more intentional Jesus-centered environment in your ministry ecosystem, reach out to connect with a Vibrant Faith Ministry Leadership Coach. Just CLICK HERE for more information. Coaching is an intentional process that moves you forward into the future you long for.  

Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith—he created the new curriculum Following JesusHe’s editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible and author of 40 books, including The Suicide Solution, The Jesus-Centered Life and Jesus-Centered Daily. In the Spring of 2024 his new book Editing Jesus: Confronting the Distorted Faith of the American Church will be published. He hosts the podcast Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus.



A Deeper Way to Lead Others Into Faith Maturity… Guide your people into depth relationally and experientially… A new curriculum by Rick Lawrence for both youth & adult ministries. Learn More Here




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